We develop tools to include students at every level of their scientific careers who are posied to make important discoveries.
We use a variety of biochemical, molecular genetic, genomic, and behavioral readouts and exploit the versatility of model organisms to explore fungal virulence strategies in a high throughput fashion. For example, the combination of the worm model with a BSL-1 pathogen of significant clinical importance is also ideal. It allows students (even undergraduates) to really learn about host-pathogen interactions without biohazard concerns or the expense and ethical consideration of using rodents.
Understanding Fungal Infections
Host pathogen studies are inherently complicated to study because it is a close interaction between two biological systems. We have developed an in vivo system that streamlines this process by using the model host Caenorhabditis elegans to identify fungal virulence. We have already validated the assay using several clinical isolates of the Candida species. Our current efforts are focused on understanding the virulence strategies used by the human pathogen Candida albicans.
Understanding Host Response
In humans, the innate immune system plays a crucial role in defending against fungal pathogens. This aspect of host immunity is conserved between nematodes and humans. Our assay allows us to evaluate genetic contributions of the fungal pathogen as well as the host via mutant libraries and RNA interference (RNAi)-mediated knockdown collection, respectively. It is unique because a systematic mutant study has not been possible in other model hosts
Managing Fungal Infections
In collaboration with researchers at Univ. of Massachusetts Medical School, we have developed an in vitro assay and screened a chemical library of small molecules that are important in preventing attachment of fungi to surfaces.
Recent efforts in the lab are focused on genetically modify brewers yeast to produce alcohols from cellulosic feedstock.
Secondary metabolite signals
Fungi integrate environmental cues, typically secondary metabolites, to initiate and sustain an infection. One such metabolite is the plant hormone indole acetic acid (IAA). We have already identified IAA transporters, transcription factors that regulate IAA responses and biochemical pathways for IAA synthesis in fungi. Current research is focused on identifying other components of the IAA signaling pathway in fungi.